Welcome to part two of this week’s, "Taiwan This Week," Taiwan Relations Act Panel Discussion Special. In the second part of the show, it features the second panel discussion, which was also recorded live at the Taiwan Relations Act at 40 — Where We’ve Been, and What’s Next event which took place at the National Taiwan University.
The event brought together former and current Taiwanese and American government officials and academics who discussed the history and future of the accord that has been the cornerstone for Taiwan US relations since 1979.
In the second panel discussion, I moderate the TRA new opportunities roundtable, at which Minister without Portfolio, Audrey Tang, KMT lawmaker at large, Jason Hsu, and Tunghai University associate professor of political science, Albert Chiu, discuss the current status of the Taiwan Relations Act and its future.
I got Albert Chiu here on my right. He’s an associate professor of political science at the Tunghai University in Taichung. He’s an expert on politics in Taiwan, has conducted research, and written extensively on a wide range of subjects, including electoral trends, political campaign activities, and the legislature.
Next to Albert is Jason Hsu, who’s a KMT lawmaker at large. He’s also, of course, held positions with the executive UN’s Youth Advisory Council, the Educational Radio Advisory Committee, and the Ministry of Education’s National Education Advisory Committee. He’s also the curator and co founder of TEDxTaipei.
At the end, we have Minister Audrey Tang. Of course, Audrey Tang has served as digital minister in the administration of President Tsai Ing wen since October of 2016. She’s in charge of managing digital information publishing by government agencies. She’s also served on the National Development Council’s Open Data Committee and the K 12 Curriculum Committee.
Like I said earlier, we’re going to jump straight in with the TRA as it may be in the future. I’ll start with Minister Tang at the end. How do you view the status of the Taiwan Relations Act after 40 years and see its current place in the relationship between Taiwan, the United States, and China?
If you google for 數位對話, or if you google for “digital AIT”, you get into this conversation platform that looks something like this that asks everyone in a democratic fashion to define the future of the free and open Indo Pacific together and define Taiwan’s relationship in relation to that strategy.
I would just reach the wisdom from the crowd, because the topmost statements are already in, perhaps just from people right here. There’s people saying that in this new era, the US and Taiwan should work very closely with non traditional multilateral organizations. That is to say, hybrid organization that combines the multi stakeholder form versus a multilateral form.
For example, international NGOs. For example, the global entrepreneurship congress. For example, the Open Government Partnership or the OGP. All these have the same characteristics. Is a combination between the major groups that cares about one or more sustainable development goals. It’s global in nature. Yet, it can only be realized in the free and open society.
That means that we’re value aligned. At the moment, this particular suggestion has the most rapport and most resonance among all the participants. I look forward to have your statements also in the mix.
Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here. Obviously, TRA serves as a legal foundation that governs the basic principle of how US Taiwan regulated the state affairs. We can tell by the fundamental shift in the US strategy towards China, particularly after Trump took office in 2016, going from a strategic partner to strategic competitor.
We realize that there’s been a fundamental wake up call in terms of US really becoming a strategic competitor towards China. With that in mind, we realized that there’s been a several push within the Congress. There are three major important legislation that are being signed in Congress.
Number one is National Defense Authority Act, which basically provides the legality for the US ships to dock in the ports of Taiwan, and also encourage the US high level officials to visit Taiwan and vice versa, for Taiwan high level officials to visit Washington.
Also, we’ve seen the introduction of the Taiwan Assurance Act, which is introduced by Senator Tom Cotton and also supported by Representative Cory Gardner. You can tell by a strong push by the US Congress to solidify the ever strong relationship between Taiwan and US.
We also must be cautious in mind that any type of a strategic partnership or competition can change overnight with the change of status or the change of dynamic. Taiwan has to stay nimble and stay flexible in understanding the dynamics between the US, Taiwan, and China relationships.
With TRA celebrating the 40th anniversary, I feel this means solidarity and also cementing the strong relationship between Taiwan and China. We will continue to pursue a closer relationship and closer cooperation both officially and unofficially, as suggested by Minister Tang, and to foster a deeper relationship between the two sides. Thanks.
Thank you, Gavin. It’s my honor to be here to talk about the issue in a panel with the two panelists. If we look back to the year of 2016 when Donald Trump surprisingly won the election, since two years ago, we have seen a lot of progress in terms of strengthening the Taiwan US relations.
This really reminds me of a theory created by the policy scholars Bryan Jones and Frank Baumgartner’s the Punctuated Equilibrium. It is a theory to major and explain long periods of policymaking stability and policy continuity, disrupted though by short but intense periods of instability and change.
In a word, the window is open right now for whole new US Taiwan relations. Regardless of different opinions in the society of Taiwan, I think all of us, each of you in the ballroom today, we have witnessed this great potential for us to explore a new relationship between Taiwan and the United States.
This does not mean that we position ourselves in a way that we want to fight against China. Rather, we actually enter a new stage, on one hand, to make sure that the democracy, as well as the security in Taiwan, is not only important to us, but also important to the United States.
On the other hand, it is a great chance for us together, Taiwan, as well as United States, to help China to find a new way out, because to my perspective, China now is still in a wrong direction, which the time is not long enough for us to see its effect. I believe it would be revealed near in the future. That’s my short remark.
A couple of things. One of the things that, as I mentioned, sustainable development goals, the SDGs, it is a global commitment. Everybody, including the PRC of course, has agreed that by year 2030, these are the 17 important issues that humanities need to solve together. We happen to believe that it can only be solved by a free and open collaboration among those issues.
First, I fully agree this is not a zero sum game for the SDGs. I further agree that the current way of a more top down approach of governance is perhaps not the best way, because the 17 SDG is partnership for goals. We cannot form partnership without exchanging data, exchanging evidences, exchanging things in a free and open manner.
If we censor even people who publish harmless information about the environment, for example, then that is impossible to form a foundation for relationships and partnerships vis à vis the sustainable development goals.
I do think Taiwan can help not only with the PRC but also with everybody, especially in Indo-Pacific Region to show how exactly to build a transparent and accountable partnership. The US is our great partner in this endeavor.
We must also bear in mind that what’s at stake here is the high tech and intellectual property that is essentially, it’s at the core of the trade war. A trade war will evolve to next stage going from goods to goods tariffs to the intellectual property and technology espionage, as well as high tech trade war.
It is up to Taiwan to secure an important, crucial position in the triangular relationship by leveraging our high tech strength, especially knowing that our semiconductor, our global supply chain, as well as our AI, and as well as our intellectual property.
Those are the things I feel if Taiwan were to, as Professor Chiu said, to harness this open opportunity that we should really focus on what matters among this what we call a triangular relationship, which is our strength in technology and intellectual property. Those are the things I feel that’s very, very important. Thank you.
Albert, we’re moving from trade into economy. What do you think could be done to raise the level of the security commitment by the US towards Taiwan? Do you think the Taiwan Relations Act could be upgraded from a policy to a law in the form of a binding defense treaty?
I think this is a great question. Law according to the previous panelist, the professor from Academia Sinica, she mentions that law could be cold. Law, in principle, is something that’s written in the government system that the administration is supposed to implement. When it comes down to the real governance, it might be another business. It might be another situation.
I think TRA provides a very sound framework for the United States to provide necessary assistance to Taiwan. It also depends on the extent to which the current administration, and even the next administration after 2020, the United States to implement it.
A couple thoughts on this. First of all, I think the US Taiwan relations in the past two years has been further institutionalized. Many of these progresses, different from the situations even prior to 2016, are law binding. That means laws like the Taiwan Travel Act, or laws like what Lawmaker Hsu just mentioned, the NDAA, the National Defense Authorization Act, in 2019, these laws are law binding.
That means that the US administration really has the obligation to implement it, but the matter is how. I think your question is on the right track in the sense that the current Trump Administration needs to come up with a more concrete major to implement those laws. The law is not only from the TRA, but also from the NDAA, and even the Taiwan Travel Act.
I know that tomorrow, the formal spokesperson of the Congress, Paul Ryan, he’s coming to visit in Taipei. That’s going to be another sensational news in Taiwan. I think this all serve as a good start for the high level visit between the two countries. Personally, I would like to continue to see more of this happening in the near future.
I do agree that code is law, by that I mean algorithm code and also data sharing programs that provides the binding in my profession way, that doesn’t even require human intervention or human interpretation. Case in point, the Department of Homeland Security in the USA has an Automated Indicator Sharing system or the AIS system.
The system basically says whenever in the US there’s a cybersecurity attack, there’s some DEFCON level being raised by some United States actors and/or other actors, then there is a machine to machine translation that translates between the different standards that different units has so that everybody knows that there is cybersecurity attacks going on and so on.
Personally, to me, that signifies a level of trust that is, of course, laws are great, but this signify a level of trust for us to be willing to look at cybersecurity in particular, but also at this information and other issues as a common epidemic that is threatening democracy, and that we’re willing to tackle together using evidence based way that we can share together.
I personally value that mostly because that’s my portfolio. In this department, I also think that it extends beyond US and Taiwan. For example, our Presidential Hackathon in which we select five teams every year and get a president’s guarantee that they become the public service.
Last year, one of the winning teams used machine learning to solve water leakage for water pipes. It may look like very trivial, but it’s actually a great issue in the days of climate change. There were then invited by New Zealand to Wellington to work for another three months.
It takes a great trust to hand to some other country’s team all your water flow, all your water pressure, all your scale down dimension and data. That is the kind of binding issues that binds all of our concerns together and build co creative teams together. I look forward to collaborating with the US more on that particular front.
This is a quite difficult question to answer. Also, I think it covers a wide variety of complexity as the situation we face today. Obviously going forward, we will see China continuing to push the envelope. We’ll see more and more crossing the centerline of the Taiwan’s trade, of their fighter jets.
Also, we’ll see more and more activities being harnessed in the cyberspace to continue to influence Taiwan. To answer this question, as a lawmaker and legislator, I think one fair and responsible comment on this is we have to understand the balance of power in the US system where executive branch or administrative branch have against or check balance between executive branch and legislative branch.
I think with the current setup, all the laws, including TRA, and as well as the Taiwan Travel Act, Taiwan Assurance Act, and the National Defense Authority Act, those are served as congressional consensus, which means it’s the consensus of the people because Congress essentially meaning the people.
Whether or not it will be authorized and executed by the president is a question to be answered. I think in the current complexity in the US China trade war and various other interests involved, there’s a high level difficulty in enacting that going from a congressional consensus to a law binding law.
We also have to understand that in the US, the administrative department upholds one China policy, which still governs on the international community as the highest principle of understanding Taiwan, China, and US dynamic. I feel the legislation and the congressional support that we are having are strong.
Whether or not we want to push it to a law binding law, I think there’s a lot of complicated questions to answer. What I would like to see is more practical and substantial cooperation between US and Taiwan. For example, on the cybersecurity front, I feel that Taiwan can play an important role to serve as a regional intelligence hub. We have a great pool of engineers.
I also mentioned on our high tech intellectual property, as well as our IP and importance in the global supply chain, as Chairman Gou also mentioned in a previous session, those are important things and substantial things that we want US to collaborate with us to continue to make Taiwan strong by leveraging our strength that we already excel, and then make us irreplaceable and unattackable by any outside force.
I was talking about upgrade in the TRA. Do you think there’s a possibility the United States could seek to downgrade the TRA or even initiate the enactment of another act if a government in Taipei signs a peace treaty with Beijing? Minister Tang?
We’ve heard a lot about “peace treaty” or “peace accord.” There’s many different words for it, but I have yet to see a substantial elaboration of what that actually means in international law or in military terms. It seems like more of a rhetoric to me at this stage.
If we look at history, no peace accords have actually protected peace very successfully for very long periods. People who are touting peace treaty or peace accord could be much more helpful and substantial if they can just bring out the terms in substantial international law and defense deployment terms.
In terms of Taiwan’s own experience, there was a lot of treaties or accords, and so on that was signed under President Ma Ying jeou. It is also very clear in terms of evidence that how differently these accords are executed or being implemented by the PRC now that Taiwan has democratically transitioned to another government.
I would actually say that I agree very much with Chairman Moriarty’s comments that the US has a relationship with a free and democratic system. It’s the governance system that USA is in partnership with. As long as we keep this part free and not interfered — while I don’t know what exactly the so called peace accord entail — I’m sure that the USA would still see Taiwan as a valuable partner.
I think this question should be understood in two dimensions. First of all, in downgrading the system which I don’t think so, I think quite the opposite. Both Taiwan and China are working in the direction that leads to more friendliness, even including Chairman Gou. He had a very great deal that the people in Taiwan, we have witnessed this, and even with President Donald Trump.
That was nothing we have ever seen in the history of Taiwan in the past. That’s number one. My response to you is no. I don’t think United States, but that’s my speculation, of course. It’s still up to the US administration to develop.
The second question regarding the peace accord, I would like to kindly view it as, in fact, issue that makes substance. Why? Of course, Taiwan is an isolated country and is often suppressed. The original term I would like to use was “bullied,” but then I changed the term. Instead, I used “suppressed” by China.
Of course, we crave for peace as people of Taiwan, but the matter is how. Is it in a way that one country, two system equally down, or in a way that China accepts the idea to transition itself to democracy?
Unfortunately, lately, we haven’t talked about this a lot anymore in the society of Taiwan, unlike say 20 years ago when Taiwan was even more affluent than China, our rule of law, and our civilization was much better than that in China.
We now in Taiwan, unfortunately, we see the two camps — Pan Blue, Pan Green. Maybe Lawmaker Hsu can address to this later on. For the Pan-Green parts, they talk about making a link to the United States, but not in a way that also invites the United States as a good partner to try to transform China in the direction of democracy.
On the other hand, Pan Blue, there are two factions or two versions of Pan Blue. On one hand, which is more like deep blue that’s more or less accepted version of one country, two system, although they deny this. On the other way, another version is probably like Lawmaker Hsu, more like moderates and more open to different kinds of possibility, especially in a sense to transform China.
Unfortunately, in the society of Taiwan, we don’t talk about the democracy in China that much as opposed to 20 years ago. I think we do want peace, but how? On what basis do we talk about peace with China? Like what I say, it’s all about "stigmatization" of politics in Taiwan.
Not much different from that in the United States is that a lot of people stigmatized the conception of the peace accord. If we really bring in to the issue or the elements of the democracy in China, I would say the super majority of the time, these people would accept the idea. Perhaps from that point on, we can talk more about what to do in our policy for the next step.
This is an if question, and this is obviously a big if. First of all, I feel any leader in this country attempting to engage in dialog or negotiation with mainland China can now compromise the two things, two most important value of Taiwan.
One is our freedom, and second is democracy. Those should serve as the most important things to enter into that agreement. Insofar as what has been laid out, it’s just an idea. I don’t think at this point in time it is useful to discuss whether or not this could be true or this could happen.
Secondly, we must not forget, there are over estimated five million Taiwanese living and working in China. I think we have to really count what’s at stake here if the leaders use any type of anti China, pro China, or any sort of ideology as a way to wage election campaign because that would scare people into a very isolated thinking. Again...
...we sit here and we talk about where Taiwan stands in the world. We also want to talk about what value and contribution we can offer to the world. Let’s not forget, let’s not underestimate ourselves. These are the things that politicians use as a language, as tactics in the campaign. Whether or not it can be materialized, there is a lot of questions to be answered.
Actually, I do agree that, as I said, "peace accord" is at this point just election rhetoric. If there is a more substantial regulatory or international law proposition, then we can talk about this for real. I think, for now, let’s table this issue.
Audrey Tang, Minister without Portfolio. Jason Hsu, KMT at large lawmaker, Albert Chiu, professor at Tunghai University, and of course, our moderator, Gavin Phipps, ICRT. Please put your hands together for them.
You’ve been listening to the second part of the two part Taiwan This Week — Taiwan Relations Act Special Panel Discussion Show, which was hosted by me, Gavin Phipps, and recorded live at the National Taiwan University. Thanks for tuning in to this week’s two part special Taiwan This Week, which covered the Taiwan Relations Act. We’ll be returning to our regular format next Friday, April the 26th.
Tune in again next Friday evening at 8:00 for another informative. Look at the top stories of the week with Taiwan This Week. Don’t forget to also check out our podcast on our website, icrt.com.tw. Keep it here for more music and news only on ICRT FM100.